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January 29, 2004

From the LA Times.

It looks like OEF may start figuring more prominently in the news.

U.S. Troops Gear Up For Bin Laden

Spring operation will aim to capture or kill Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters leaving winter bivouacs in Pakistani border region.

By Josh Meyer and John Hendren, Times Staff Writers. Times staff writer Paul Richter contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON — Determined to capture or kill Osama bin Laden after two years of fruitless searching, U.S. troops are mustering for a spring offensive along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, Defense Department and other officials said Wednesday. The new operation comes as the Bush administration debates whether to press Pakistan harder to allow the U.S. to take the fight into its territory.

Fruitless in that we haven't landed Bin Laden or produced his corpse, perhaps. In terms of capturing bad guys, blowing up materiel, and gathering intel and refining our techniques for gathering it... not fruitless.

Two administration officials said some senior Pentagon officials were pushing for an aggressive hunt for Al Qaeda inside Pakistan, while some officials at the State Department and in the National Security Council argued that Musharraf's already fragile regime, under growing pressure from Islamic hard-liners, would be further destabilized if he allowed foreign troops to operate on Pakistani soil.

Musharraf survived two assassination attempts in recent weeks and has said he suspected the Al Qaeda terrorist network was behind the attacks. As fundamentalist factions continue to gain support in Pakistan, Bush administration officials fear another attempt or a coup could lead to a new regime more hostile to American interests and more supportive of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

This looks like another area where we can debate military approaches or police approaches. The Paks have been trying police. Mebbe it's time to shift. Simple reality is, the Pak government doesn't rule all of Pakistan. A good chunk of the province of Waziristan is more akin to the Wild Wild West before the arrival of the Army than it is an integrated member of the polity.

U.S. officials stressed Wednesday that no military operations would be carried out inside Pakistan without Musharraf's approval. At a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, the Pakistani president ruled out such operations.

"No sir, that is not a possibility at all. It's a very sensitive issue," Musharraf said when asked if he would consider allowing U.S. troops to search for Bin Laden in Pakistan. "There is no room for any foreign elements coming and assisting us, we don't need any assistance."

One U.S. official said Pakistan was by far the most important country in the U.S. effort to find Bin Laden and several top aides.

"In our list of the top 10 countries who can help us in this," the official said, "eight of them are Pakistan."

All of which points out the very fragile nature of our ally. I don't know the answer - but we'd better play it right, 'cuz there's nukes in them thar hills.

Officials said Wednesday that the capture in December of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had freed resources to press the hunt for Bin Laden and his fighters.

"There's an obvious ability now to refocus human assets on a far grander scale," the U.S. official said. "It's logical that the hunter-killer types would now be turned loose to deal with this more aggressively."

Let's hope they can do the job. We're getting better at it.